Unless you’re a true psychopath, you probably have a fear or two or seventeen. Fear is one of the things that sets “normal” people apart from psychopaths. One of the nice things about fears are that we can overcome them. You can face your fear and move on with your life.
The same is not true of a phobia. Phobias are game changers. Phobias are more extreme than fears. Again, you probably have one or two unless you happen to be a psychopath.
No one is quite sure why phobias develop or exist. We can only have a broad understanding of them. For example; fears of spiders and snakes are most likely survival related. The majority of us are not going to know the difference between a Northern Water Snake and a Copperhead. They do look similar in most stages of their lives and they both can swim. One is venomous, one isn’t, but to be safe, we develop a phobia of all snakes – hence the saying the only good snake is a dead snake. Sadly, this isn’t true, snakes are very helpful, especially at keeping down rodent populations that might carry other diseases like Bubonic Plague.
Men and women seem to be equally affected by zoonotic phobias (I’m not sure zoonotic is the right word, but I can’t think of a better one). There are two exceptions; women are more likely to have a phobia of dogs and men are more likely to be phobic of cats. I don’t know why and I have yet to find an explanation that makes since, but it might be why we associate dogs with men and cats with women. It’s an association that goes back well into the history of mankind and can be seen in the anthropomorphic gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Sekhmet is a lion-headed goddess, Bast is a cat-headed goddess. Anubis is a jackal-headed god. There are a few exceptions, like Bau a Sumerian dog-headed goddess, but they really are exceptions.
The sexes appear to be equally phobic of death related stuff. Fears of flying, heights, and tight spaces, all appear with equal frequency in men and women. Meaning the guy in the seat next to you on the airplane, is just as likely to be afraid of flying as the woman in the seat on the other side of the aisle.
There are a few areas where the sexes are not equal. Women are more likely to fear storms, thunder, lightning, and wind. Men are more likely to be agoraphobic (fear of being in an open space) as well as having a fear of failure.
But the big ones; women are almost three times as likely to be afraid of dentists while men are four times more likely to be afraid of regular doctors. Furthermore, men are more likely to be afraid of needles than women, which is why convincing your husband to go get a flu shot is a bit like trying to shove a cat into a jar of water.
These phobias seem to be based on social norms. Female children are more severely punished when they are “biters” than male children. Female children are also more likely to be admonished for having an oral fixation and chewing on pen caps or biting their nails than male children. To make matters worse, sociologists think women are more sensitive to taboos, which explains why cannibalism is far more common among men than women.
Going to a dentist challenges the taboos female children are taught. We are taught not to stick things in our mouth, not to bite, and that there is a stigma to having foreign objects in our mouths (there is some pseudo-sexual overtones to going to the dentist for a woman that shouldn’t exist, but they do).
On the flip side, being sick or injured is a sign of weakness in a man. Therefore admitting they need to see a doctor is a threat to their masculinity. They would rather “man up” than go get that broken finger set properly. Even when they don’t fear going to a doctor, the idea that a doctor might give them a shot, is another layer of terror that they would prefer to ignore. The strange part about men being afraid of needles is that they don’t associate needles with body modification. Meaning when a man sits down to get a tattoo, they do not see a machine with dozens of needles that is going to prick their skin, they see a machine, the sum of the parts. When a woman goes to get a tattoo, they are more likely to think of it as dozens of needles that will ink their skin rather than just see the sum of the parts.
Both cause problems for millions of people across the globe. Women rarely get the dental care that they should and men will let things go until it must be treated, usually in an ER or urgent care facility. Also these three phobias along with agoraphobia are the most determent to our health. Other phobias can be avoided, but doctors, dentists, needles, and the outdoors are not things that we can avoid without suffering consequences equal to or greater than the side effects of the phobias themselves.